“God and the Holy Sepulcher help us!”
Ibelin looked around, trying to see what was happening. The men around him were already pointing. “King Richard! King Richard!”
Sure enough, the English King was again galloping to the north, and this time he had only a handful of men with him. Ibelin dropped Centurion’s reins and grabbed up Ras Dawit’s instead, thrusting his foot into the near stirrup at the same time. The young horse, who had done nothing but walk and trot all day, readily answered his heels. As soon as they were clear of the crowds of men around the cisterns, Ras Dawit picked up a gallop and they flew after the King of England and his men, making up ground because Ras was fresh and King Richard’s Cypriot stallion was now nearing the end of his strength.
Ahead of them, several hundred Mamlukes, commanded by the now familiar red-bearded Khalid al-Hamar, were causing havoc among the exhausted Hospitallers as the latter tried to set up camp. The mere sight of heavy cavalry rushing to the rescue was enough to scatter them, however. Mounted on fresh native horses, their withdrawal was swift, and King Richard recognized that his own tired stallion had no chance of catching them. He sat back and let his horse fall into a trot and then a walk on a long rein, snorting and dragging his head to express that he’d had enough for one day.
Ibelin and the others likewise slowed to a walk, and Ibelin found himself surrounded by the few knights who had sprinted after their King. “Have you ever see anything like the King’s courage?” a Gascon knight proudly asked the despised “poulain.”
Ibelin flipped open his visor so that the man could see his face clearly. “Richard Plantagenet is undoubtedly a brave man, but tell me this: would your King have the courage to ride into battle if he could not couch a lance? If he could not use sword or shield? If, indeed, if he could not even hold the reins of his horse?”
“Huh?” The Gascon looked at Ibelin as if he were mad. “What are you talking about? Of course not! That’s—”
“That’s what my King did. Without the use of arms or hands, he led a force of just five hundred knights and five thousand foot against a Saracen army led by Salah ad-Din that was four times as strong—and put it to flight. That, sir, took a measure of courage far greater than what your King—for all his prowess—displayed today.”
The Gascon started to protest, but a voice cut him off. “Well said, my lord of Ibelin,” Richard Plantagenet declared. “But tell me this: Who would you rather have fighting beside you?”
Balian had no choice but to concede the point. He bowed from the waist to King Richard.
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